Mumbai: The Tamil Nadu government has transferred six police officers after allegations of brutal custodial violence in Tirunelveli district surfaced last month.
The action was taken days after Ambasamudram’s assistant superintendent of police (ASP) Balveer Singh IPS was suspended after several complaints of custodial torture were reported against him.
Two brothers, one of whom is a minor, claimed that Singh had unleashed violence on them. Both of them lost their teeth. They also suffered several gruesome injuries.
Arun Kumar, who was picked up following a brawl in his locality, has claimed to have been subjected to brutal attacks by Singh.
The Indian Express reported Arun Kumar as saying, at a press conference, “On March 10, around 1 pm, I was taken to Ambai station. Within some time, some others (who were involved in a brawl) also reached the station. The ASP who was in uniform earlier changed to a tracksuit and T-shirt and he wore gloves. He first called Chellappa and Marimuthu inside and I heard their screams. Of the six people in the opposite gang, one was a minor. I was called inside by the ASP. Two policemen held my hands tightly and they were stamping on me with their shoes. They would keep beating me on my buttocks with the lathi if I don’t open my mouth. After I opened my mouth, the ASP rubbed and hit a stone against my teeth. I lost four teeth completely and one is half-broken.”
His younger brother, a minor, too, narrated a similar story.
Singh is accused of unleashing violence on persons accused of petty crimes. Singh, a 2020-batch IPS officer from Tonk district in Rajasthan was removed from his position after photos and videos of the men with their broken and missing teeth circulated on social media. The videos led to a furore and the opposition demanded immediate action against him. The state human rights commission too has suo motu initiated a probe into the allegations.
Arun Kumar’s mother, Rajeshwari, who was also present at the press conference, alleged that the police torture didn’t end at the police station. According to her, the police repeatedly visited her house and demanded to know their caste. They, she alleged, shot a video of her saying that the police did not beat her sons.
She further claimed that the police also asked for money to provide food to her sons and for their transportation.
Madurai-based human rights organisation People’s Watch had arranged the press meeting. Henri Tiphange, executive director of the NGO, compared the incident to the Sathankulam custodial case of 2020. P. Jayaraj and Bennicks, a father and son duo, were killed in alleged custodial torture in Sathankulam town in Thoothukudi district leading to massive outrage in the state over police brutality.
Police brutality and custodial violence are not uncommon in India. Year after year, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) and many other independent research findings have noted that in almost all cases, the victims of police excesses belong to Dalit, Adivasis, Denotified Tribes, Nomadic Tribes, Other Backward Classes, and lower caste Muslims. Their marginalised identities make it nearly impossible for them to approach the court and seek justice.
In the case of custodial deaths and rape, the state is legally bound to carry out an independent judicial magistrate inquiry, as prescribed under section 176 (1A) of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The provision to conduct a judicial magistrate’s inquiry into matters of custodial deaths, rapes and disappearances has existed in the statute since 2005. It was introduced as a replacement to the earlier Section 176 (1) of the CrPC, which until then only prescribed an executive magistrate’s inquiry.
As per the data available until 2020, since the amendment in the law, as many as 1,373 persons have died in legal or illegal police custody. But among them, states have proceeded with the mandatory judicial inquiry in just 298 cases, which is about 21% of the total cases.